By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Despite the success of a special one-stop-shop service set up to combat obscene and threatening phone calls, it has failed to cut down on the numbers of people using the phone to torment their victims, according to Eircom.
The number of complaints to the company’s Malicious Calls Bureau last year was 18,300 — about 300 a day — and 6,000 of them were serious enough to involve investigations by the Bureau, many of which are ongoing.
An Eircom spokeswoman said the number of complaints was about the same as in 1998-1999 — the first year the Bureau’s services were available.
The Bureau, with its 12 specially trained staff, allows victims to get help quickly and has cut through the time-consuming red tape and bureaucracy that people used to face when seeking assistance and a Garda investigation.
Despite the extra measures and stiff penalties, however, it doesn’t appear to have deterred the phone pests whose menacing calls can make people’s lives a misery.
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Some pests are not at all discerning and will threaten or abuse anyone who happens to answer the phone.
However, many woman have had to endure repeated calls as part of an overall stalking pattern that can involve sexual or even death threats.
Under the Wireless and Telegraphy Act, convicted malicious callers face fines ranging from £800 to £50,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years.
Eircom say that 50 percent of the calls were threatening or abusive, 40 percent were silent callers who remained on the line but said nothing, 9 percent were hoaxes and one percent were classified as "electronic" and involved faxes.
More than 7,000 people changed their phone number during the year — slightly up on the 1998-99 figure — in an effort to stop the calls. Eircom waives the £19.60 number change charge for distressed victims.
About 2,000 calls were traced at the request of gardai investigating complaints from victims.
Almost all the calls came from landlines, with only one percent of the complaints involving mobile phones.
The figures show that 44 percent of the victims lived in Dublin and 54 percent are in provincial areas outside the 01 prefix.
The statistics break down the victims as 42 percent male and 58 percent female, but the spokeswoman said the high male figure may be because the phone was registered in a man’s name though the complaint would have been made by a woman.
"The fact that the number of complaints is virtually the same as last year is not a huge surprise," the spokeswoman said. "Malicious calls are an ongoing worldwide problem and the statistics here per head of population would be very similar to other countries."